PUCKER UP! The Return to Popularity of Sour Beers


Brief History:


Imagine a place where all beers available for purchase are at least a little bit sour. Now take a step back and think because that place was the entire world of beer until the last 100 years or so. This sourness was largely due to lack of understanding of bacterias as well as the absence of proper cleaning and sanitization practices. The critical gaps in understanding and practices would leave naturally occurring unpredictable yeasts in the batches of brew. Wild yeast then causes unintentional fermentation and flavoring, as well as a citric acid buildup causing the sour taste.

Modern Practice:

Brewers these days have access to cheap and plentiful means of sanitization and all wild yeasts and unpredictability are generally taken out of the process. With this resurgence we are seeing in the popularity of sour beers, brewers are taking their properly sanitized equipment and adding unusual or wild yeast or one or more varieties to create the sour effect. Often specific acid producing microbes are added to the batches such as the varieties discussed below.

Some modern brewers are using the classical method of simply leaving parts of the brewing process exposed to wild yeast. A gentle breeze or perhaps the wood of the building can be home to wild yeast and will provide the microbes needed for souring to occur. This approach is generally too unpredictable for the standard brewery but is being implemented by those going for a classic approach.

The Microbes:

Sours get their trademark tartness and sourness from bacteria and wild yeasts—Lactobacillus, Acetobacter, Brettanomyces, and other critters—that you wouldn’t find in other styles of beer. Each type of bacteria gives its own trademark flavor and aroma: Lactobacillus has a yogurt tang, Acetobacter has the sourness of vinegar, and Brettanomyces has a barnyard, earthy, or farmhouse aroma. via Paste Magazine

One of the biggest sources of joy for a drinker of sour beer is the complexity endowed to each sour. The variety of wild yeast from batch to batch creates unique and distinct tastes based on the mix of yeasts and can be hard to replicate. Some breweries such as Brasserie Cantillon in Belgium believes it is so important to replicate the yeasts naturally occurring in the brewery that they are spraying down new locations with their beer to pass on the yeast! “The brewery allows the specific yeasts found in their building to ferment their beers in similar ways through the ages (Cantillon was founded in 1900), resulting in the consistent, aforementioned world-renowned product.” via Food and Wine

Now go try a “contaminated” beer!


4 thoughts on “PUCKER UP! The Return to Popularity of Sour Beers

  1. Rachelle Gordon

    I’ve only tried one sour beer and my thoughts at this point in time are – it’s an acquired taste. I can’t imagine that ALL beer used to be that way. I can’t remember what the brand of sour beer was that I tried, but do you have a recommendation for someone new to sours?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TannerBrews Post author

      I can’t imagine trying to brew in that time period and always ending up with sour beer and not understanding why!
      As far as recommendations, here in Reno, I’m quite fond of the sour at The Depot Craft Brewery and Distillery. However like you said sours are a very acquired taste, personally I never have more than one in a sitting. Thank you for commenting!



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